Here’s what flowers look like to bees and butterflies. Why should they not like them?

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Flowers are not only pretty to look at but also help plants make more of themselves. Many flowers, like bees and butterflies, need the help of pollinators like bees and butterflies to spread their pollen and make seeds. How do these bugs see flowers, though? And what draws them to them so much?

Pollen and bees

Bees are the producers that do the most work in nature. They spend most of their time looking for pollen and nectar, the main foods they and their young need to survive. UV light is invisible to people, but bees can see it because they have special eyes that let them see it. Many flower petals have designs or markings that reflect UV light. This creates a contrast that helps bees find the nectar and pollen. Some call these designs “nectar guides” or “bee guides.”

Bees also use colour to figure out what kind of flower it is. Bees can see blue-green, blue, violet, and almost-ultraviolet colours, but not red. Because of this, blue, purple, or yellow flowers tend to get more bees than red, orange, or pink flowers.

But how do bees know when a light is UV? In their eyes, bees have photoreceptors that can respond to different colours of light. Some of these photoreceptors can get information from both the light’s wavelength and its electric field. This lets them see UV light as a different colour from light in the visible spectrum. Bees also have a type of ommatidia called dorsal rim ommatidia that can see polarised light. Polarised light is light that moves in a certain direction. Polarised light is made when particles in the air spread, and it can help bees find their way by showing them where the sun is.

Flowers and butterflies

Also, butterflies are important pollinators, especially for daytime flowers. Like bees, butterflies can see UV light, and many flowers that draw butterflies have spots that reflect UV light to lead the butterfly to the nectar. Some colours, like red, orange, yellow, pink, and purple, are especially attractive to butterflies. The green of the leaves and grass makes these colours pop out more.

Bees carry pollen on their bodies, but moths don’t. Instead, they use a long tube-like mouth part called a proboscis to sip juice from flowers. So, butterflies like flat flowers or have a long tube that their proboscis can fit into. Some flowers that butterflies like are zinnias, daisies, and lilies.

Coneflowers, marigolds, and butterfly trees.

Butterflies also have photoreceptors that can pick up UV light, but they have more kinds of photoreceptors than bees do. Some butterflies have up to 15 different kinds of photoreceptors in their eyes, and each one is tuned to a different colour of light. Because of this, they can see a wide range of colours, which helps them find the right flowers and mates. Butterflies can also talk to each other through the UV images on their wings. Some species have spots or stripes on their wings that reflect UV light and show possible mates their sex or species.


Flowers look different to bees and butterflies than they do to people. They can see UV light, which shows patterns that are hidden on the flowers, and they like colours that stand out from their surroundings. Flowers have changed their shape, colour, and smell along with these pollinators to draw them and help them reproduce. So it makes sense that bees and butterflies like flowers so much.

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